RavnAir shutdown expected to hit remote Alaska villages the hardest

(Photo from Ravn Alaska)
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The shutdown of RavnAir flights is expected to be felt by remote rural villages across Alaska.

In Aniak, the loss of service will likely also hit smaller villages nearby. Mayor Erica Kameroff, of the City of Aniak, said that freight is expected to be brought into the region by other carriers.

The United States Postal Service says mail deliveries will not be affected by the RavnAir shutdown.

“All mail deliveries are current,” said Alaska District Manager Ron Haberman. “Further measures will be taken to ensure that services retain the level of consistency that Alaskan residents have come to expect prior to the change.”

Erica Moss, from USPS customer service support, said the postal service continues to fine tune how mail will be delivered by other carriers, "to ensure everything is seamless with the customers."

In McGrath, Ash Dupree, a manager at the local AC store, says the loss of RavnAir flights is not making a huge difference to groceries on store shelves. Northern Air Cargo is delivering food to McGrath and only a small amount of supplies came in via RavnAir.

Passenger flights may be difficult for some villages without other carriers, Kameroff said, particularly for essential medical travel. Medical evacuation flights would continue to help people needing emergency medical help.

City administrator Phillip Zavadil said in the City of St. Paul there could be similar impacts on essential medical flights as well as bringing people in to help with critical infrastructure.

“We wouldn’t be able to have essential workers come in if something were to break down in our community,” Zavadil said. “Say, if something happened to our internet, our power plant, or our water system, and we need to bring in someone to help fix that.”

Zavadil estimated that it would cost between $11,000-$22,000 to charter a flight if essential repairs are needed.

For some communities, Alaska Airlines will be stepping in with increased service.

On Sunday, RavnAir filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protections in a Delaware court. According to court documents, the air carrier sought emergency help from federal and state representatives but it was too slow to materialize with its revenues plunging.

As part of a federal coronavirus relief package known as the CARES Act, RavnAir looks set to receive some portion of the funds needed to begin flying again. When those funds will become available is unclear.

Mike Anderson, a spokesperson for Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, said the senator “has worked relentlessly for the past week with senior Treasury Department officials so that Ravn, and our other Alaskan air carriers, could have the opportunity to take advantage of the assistance being offered as part of the CARES Act to continue paying their employees – our fellow Alaskans.”

While it waits for federal help, RavnAir is now looking to borrow $12 million to pay roughly 1,300 staff who have been laid off. That loss of income could impact communities and hundreds of people across rural Alaska.

“It makes me a little concerned about what happens to those employees who worked out in the villages and relied on a paycheck from RavnAir,” Kameroff said.

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